Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan added another name to his chopping block on Tuesday as he and his new team of executives tries to build the team they want with a methodical approach and a necessary level of shrewdness.
The Maple Leafs traded defenseman Dion Phaneuf and his $7 million salary cap charge through the 2020-21 season to the Ottawa Senators as part of a nine-player blockbuster trade that also featured a draft pick.
In addition to Phaneuf, Ottawa acquired forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert and defense prospect Cody Donaghey. In return, the Maple Leafs received defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Tobias Lindberg, and the Senators' second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Since Shanahan arrived as the new boss in Toronto, he slowly has made massive changes by replacing general manager Dave Nonis with Lou Lamoriello and coach Randy Carlyle with Mike Babcock, while also moving out the big contracts of underperforming players Phil Kessel, David Clarkson and now Phaneuf.
In moving Phaneuf to Ottawa, the Maple Leafs didn't have to retain any salary, which is a huge plus. They retained $1.2 million when they traded Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins over the summer.
Toronto did, however, add some salary for next season. According to GeneralFanager.com, Cowen ($3.1 million), Michalek ($4.0 million) and Greening ($2.65 million) are all signed through next season. Lindberg is also signed, but he's on an entry-level contract through the 2017-18 season.
Cowen, a towering defenseman who never found his footing in Ottawa, is the quick fix to replace Phaneuf. He has potential he hasn't come close to reaching yet.
Greening soon could have a role with the Maple Leafs or be sent to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. Michalek likely will have a role with the Maple Leafs when he's healthy. He's out indefinitely with a broken finger.
However, the key to the entire trade from Toronto's perspective is getting rid of Phaneuf's large cap charge. It gives the Maple Leafs flexibility in their potential pursuit of a big-ticket free agent either this summer or next.
In fact, it sure looks as if this trade is Toronto's clearest indication it plans to go all-in to sign Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos if he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
There may be holes in that plan, though, because there's no guarantee Stamkos will hit free agency or that he'll want to sign with Toronto. He has publicly stated his interest in staying in Tampa Bay and winning with the Lightning. He also has publicly stated he doesn't have a desire to go to a rebuilding team.
Video: NHL.com breaks down Phaneuf to Senators Trade
The Maple Leafs definitely are rebuilding. But they're rebuilding Shanahan's way, step by step, and Phaneuf was the latest victim.
As for the Senators, acquiring Phaneuf's cap charge is a massive risk taken on by general manager Bryan Murray because Phaneuf turns 31 on April 10 and his game has been regressing in Toronto for the past few seasons.
It could be a risk worth taking and one that turns out to benefit the Senators because Phaneuf could find himself rejuvenated by the trade, which relieves him of an undo amount of pressure.
He was playing 22 minutes per game in Toronto and serving as the captain of the team. In Ottawa, he'll be a second-pair defensemen behind Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot, likely asked to play fewer and easier minutes. He also won't have to shoulder the load as the captain. That's Karlsson's job now.
Phaneuf can blend in, almost hide, and be a quality contributor.
You might say that's not good enough for a $7 million defenseman (Phaneuf is tied with Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings for the seventh highest cap charge among defenseman in the NHL), but that's a reality that won't change, so the Senators can't be worried about it. They have to get the best they can out of Phaneuf, who should be able to deliver in a meaningful way in a reduced role from the one he had in Toronto.